The CEO Refresher Websites for Professionals
Take control of your online presence
with your own professional website!

Workplace Wellness: Something's Happening Here
by Geri McKeown


Do you have a sense that the workplace itself creates stress? Leading Canadian organizations are taking action to alleviate organizational stress at its source. They are adopting a strategic, balanced approach to workplace wellness where employee health is valued and is a component of daily business decisions. How does your workplace compare to some of the healthiest places to work in Canada?

Health Canada outlines the following key factors that influence health in the workplace:

* The physical environment: a healthy, well-designed and safe place to work
* The psychosocial environment: a "culture" that supports employee well-being and effective work practices
* Personal resources: having control over your work and health, being able to cope with stress and knowing that there is support available when needed
* Personal health practices: opportunities to make healthy lifestyle choices that support long term health and well-being.

The most effective workplace health promotion is comprehensive and aims at improving all of these elements. Dr. Martin Shain, of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto and a recognized leader in Canadian workplace health, provides us with the following definition:

"Comprehensive Workplace Health Promotion is an approach to protecting and enhancing the health of employees that relies and builds upon the efforts of employers to create a supportive management culture and upon the efforts of employees to care for their own well-being."

Note the point about dual responsibility lying with both the employer and the employee. Leading Canadian organizations are implementing Comprehensive Workplace Health Promotion based on the National Quality Institute's Canadian Healthy Workplace Criteria. NQI, based in Toronto, developed the criteria in partnership with Health Canada and in association with professionals from the health and safety sector. The criteria provides a logical framework for developing and sustaining a healthy workplace through four essential "drivers":

* Leadership
* Planning
* People Focus
* Process Management

A fifth part of the framework entitled "Outcomes" is designed to capture the results and effects of the organization's healthy workplace effort.

Why start with leadership? If, in fact, the goal is not only to develop but also to sustain a healthy workplace this can only happen when the organization's leaders believe in and are committed to the goal.

Leadership means aligning workplace health with organizational goals and MDS Nordion is a good example. Located in Kanata, Ontario, they provide the global market with radioisotopes, radiation equipment and related product used in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer and other illnesses. Consequently, MDS Nordion experiences the high pressure of trade on the world stage coupled with being a part of the fast-paced, competitive, high technology field. Yet this company strives to create a workplace that inspires innovation, creativity and teamwork. It has received recognition through the NQI Healthy Workplace Award as one of Canada's best companies. Commitment to their employees is aligned with their business strategy through the belief that " basic human values go hand-in-hand with good business". Their core values, considered essential to the enduring success of MDS, are:

* Mutual trust
* Genuine concern and respect for people
* Integrity
* Commitment to excellence.

At MDS Nordion you can see the core values in action. For example, they provide employees at all levels with a learning program available in flexible format through on-site resources or reimbursement for job-related courses at external teaching institutions. Flexible working arrangements allow employees to participate in training related to health or work, to take up fitness activities (there is a fully equipped on-site fitness facility) and accommodate personal scheduling issues.

Leadership also means that the executive management team provides direction and resources while at the same time the leadership, responsibility and accountability for healthy workplace issues are shared throughout the organization. At MDS Nordion, senior management is highly supportive, with the Vice President of Human Resources the champion of the cause at the executive level. The leadership is shared through a Health Promotion Advisory Committee and others such as the Active Living Team, Employee Assistance Program team and Health & Safety Committees. The Health Promotion Advisory Committee was responsible for the development of a 3-year Corporate Health Plan that integrates all health related initiatives.

Telus BC, a large telecommunications company with headquarters in Burnaby BC, is another NQI Healthy Workplace Award trophy recipient. Telus BC has identified resilience, change mastery and a corporate culture that supports work/life balance and employee health needs as the key success factors. They determined these priorities through dialogue with senior management, strategic planning sessions, employee surveys and studies as well as industry and national business trends. This company uses the Balanced Scorecard approach to encourage management accountability for meeting healthy workplace objectives and, as such, has experienced a positive change in corporate culture.

A healthy workplace has a strong focus on its people. People Focus is about the organization's culture, the psychosocial environment and the organization's efforts to foster employee input on healthy workplace and organizational issues. MDS Nordion has an open door policy so employees can bring their concerns to their supervisor, the executive team, the Human Resources Employee Relations Team or to the Corporate Health and Wellness specialist. Employees are invited to participate in mapping of specific work processes to identify issues and make improvements. Employees have numerous opportunities to have input on health issues through surveys (including employee satisfaction) and the many health and wellness committees. Employees receive recognition through a comprehensive recognition and rewards program with both formal and informal mechanisms and equal emphasis on team and individual achievement. The outcome - MDS Nordion is a great place to work.

Both MDS Nordion and Telus BC also offer their employees a wide range of opportunities to stay healthy: healthy food choices in the cafeteria and vending machines, fitness facilities, educational sessions, flu shots, a return to work program to mention a few.

Both these companies are showing positive trends in employee health and well-being as well as cost savings to the company. Telus BC states a return on investment of three dollars for every dollar invested in the program. In 1999, MDS Nordion outcomes included a turnover rate of 6% (norm for the industry is 10%), an annual sick day usage of 4 days average per person per year (the Canadian average is 7.4), lost time injuries at an all-time low and a lower rate of grievances.

12 Questions
To see how your organization measures up to the NQI Healthy Workplace Criteria take the following brief questionnaire.

1. Is a strategic approach in place to developing and sustaining a healthy workplace and is it based on employee needs?
2. Do your leaders demonstrate, through their comments and action, a commitment to the management of a healthy workplace?
3. Is there an overall health policy in place stating your organization's intent to protect and promote the health of all employees by providing as healthy an environment as possible?
4. Do you have a formal assessment process to determine employee needs, attitudes and preferences in regard to healthy workplace programs?
5. Are the workplace health assessment results analyzed and are improvement goals set out in a Healthy Workplace Plan?
6. Does the Healthy Workplace Plan lead to improvement of all the key elements of a healthy workplace - the Physical Environment, Health Practices and the Social Environment & Personal Resources?
7. Do you have a mechanism in place to review relevant occupational health and safety legislation and are you in compliance with such legislation/regulations?
8. Do you have methods in place that make it easy for people to provide ongoing input on healthy workplace and organizational issues and to seek assistance?
9. Do you measure employee satisfaction levels in order to improve the workplace?
10. Do you identify the contributions of your people and provide appropriate recognition and rewards?
11. Are there good levels and trends in employee satisfaction and morale?
12. Do you train your people in healthy workplace principles and methods?

How does your workplace measure up? The tools are available to help move your organization forward to be a healthier, less stressful, place to work. It takes time and effort but is well worth doing because a healthy workplace is clearly a win/win situation for both employee and employer.


The Author


Geri McKeown is an associate of the National Quality Institute and president of Wellness Matters. She can be reached at (416) 251-9131 ext 237 or

Many more articles in Health & Safety in The CEO Refresher Archives
The CEO Refresher

Copyright 2001 by Geri McKeown. All rights reserved.

Current Issue - Archives - CEO Links - News - Conferences - Recommended Reading

Refresher Publications